Although he’s 35 now and has done many films and television shows since, Jaleel White is still best known for his role as the nerdy Steven Urkel on Family Matters. That may change starting tonight with the fourteenth season premiere of Dancing with the Stars, depending on how he fares in the ballroom. Although he brings zero dance experience to the show, White hopes that his “class clown” antics will at least keep fans laughing — and voting.
“Nobody wants to be the first one to go,” laughs White, an “amateur athlete” accustomed to strenuous workouts, “but not like this. I’ve dropped ten pounds just in the last two weeks” while practicing the fox trot with pro partner Kym Johnson, he reports. Not wanting to play into the drama and controversy that the show often generates, White “effectively dodged” informal invites to take part in the past, but his mother and manager urged him to sign up, and once he met Johnson and saw Gladys Knight on the set, “I knew I’d made the right decision,” he says.
The pre-competition atmosphere has been helpful and supportive, White says, and he’s had fun bantering with Sherri Shepherd and reminiscing with Knight, who played his mother on the sitcom Charlie & Co. back in the mid-1980s. “I was nine years old then, and here I am, back on TV with her. What amazing nostalgia that we made it this far,” marvels White, who doesn’t see Knight as competition, “even if we end up in the finals together. But I’m not even thinking about winning right now. It’s the experience,” emphasizes White.
He insists he didn’t do Dancing to further his career, which he calls “busier than ever.” He recently appeared in episodes of House and NCIS, will guest on Psych (alongside Mekhi Phifer) on March 21, will get a makeover from June Ambrose on VH1’s Styled By June on April 2, and starting April 25 will host the Syfy game show Total Blackout, in which contestants have to identify what they’re touching in complete darkness. He also wrote the comedy Parking Lot Pimpin’, about two guys who borrow a luxury car, lose it and have to find it by morning. Ludacris and Kevin Hart are in talks to star.
Meanwhile, he’s focusing on his footwork. “You have to make that commitment in order for it to be a successful journey,” believes White, who’s taking it one step at a time. “The second you get one dance they give you another one. Your sense of accomplishment is very short-lived.”
Dancing with the Stars premieres March 19 at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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